A Cannabis Entrepreneur Shares What She Wishes She Knew Before Starting Her Business
One of the best lines Brooke Alpert says she's heard in the industry: 'I'd much rather teach cannabis to businesspeople than business to cannabis people.'
Brooke Alpert, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. is a certified holistic cannabis practitioner and author, as well as the founder of B Nutritious, a private nutrition counseling and consulting practice in New York City. Her interest in cannabis, particularly in CBD, came from trying to help her husband manage his debilitating autoimmune disease. After seeing what CBD could do for her husband, Alpert brought CBD into her private practice and saw overall wellness improve for many of her clients. She then teamed up with a partner to create a CBD wellness supplement, Daily Habit.
In this Q&A, Alpert shares what she wishes she knew before starting out in the cannabis industry, her top marketing strategies and her advice for budding cannabis entrepreneurs.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you share the story of what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve been a registered dietitian for 13 years with a private practice in NYC focusing on weight loss and health and wellness. Shortly after my husband Todd and I were married, he was diagnosed with a complicated autoimmune disease that basically causes chronic pain in his legs and hands, preventing him from standing or walking for any length of time. After years of having him on some pretty crazy diets (think liver and red cabbage) he asked for a break from all the diets and doctors. It was during this time that I had been seeing some interesting articles and research surrounding CBD, and since Todd was what we call “cannabis-friendly,” I basically said to him, "Try this, it’s from pot." He was, not surprisingly, open to it. About a month after using this specific CBD, Todd stood and walked longer than he had in years and taught our oldest daughter how to ride a bike. Once I saw that change in him, I started to research more into CBD. After learning about its benefit for anxiety, I brought it into my private practice for my emotional eaters with great results. I then spent a year studing cannabis and became a holistic cannabis practitioner. It was during this training that the idea for my new business came to me, and with that, I created Daily Habit, the first full-spectrum CBD powder.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
For those that know me, it’s funny to them that I’m in the cannabis business now, mainly because in my adult life, I’ve been a total teetotaler. I barely ever drink, stay out late or even eat dark chocolate after 3 p.m. But the story that stands out the most is my conversations with my 10-year-old about my new business. I’ve raised both my girls being very honest with them, especially my older one who has bigger questions. So finding ways to have healthy conversations about “mommy's plant” and the stigma and/or misuse of it has been challenging. For some reason, she loves to announce to anyone who is listening that I work in the cannabis industry. I think she’s actually really proud but also loves seeing the range of reactions that gets us both.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It’s only funny now because it’s in the past but when we were first getting set up with our manufactoring company, we were working with a middleman of sorts to purchase our CBD. For some reason, he hand-delivered our order for our first test batch, so our lab received a “brick” of unlabeled powder. I never thought I’d have to explain or communicate that everything sent to our lab and manufacturing facility had to be properly boxed and labeled, so our product was left in quarantine for months while we went and got it tested again to make sure we knew what we had. This put finalizing our formula two months behind schedule. Fortunately, we’ve learned to be very clear with every order and now have those standards as part of our contracts with any supplier.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Daily Habit just launched, so managing that has been pretty awesome. I’m working on expanding the product line, testing flavors and more.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
First would definitely be my husband. His health issues were the beginning of this journey for me, so I’m beyond grateful he’s been willing (for the most part) to be my human guinea pig. When I first had this idea for Daily Habit, I had no idea how to get it started. Around the same time, I was asked to speak at an event for entrepreneurs hosted by a good friend of mine, and she asked if I could discuss a problem I was having in my business. My nutrition company was really running quite well so I decided that if I talked about my struggle with my new idea, it would give me motivation to actually make it happen. So I talked about how it was a challenge because I had this great idea that I could visualize clearly, but when it came to the complicated aspects of fundraising, financing and technology, I was out of my element. I’ve run a successful private practice for 13 years, but that business was very different. It was after this talk that my partner approached me and offered to help me figure this out. After a few conversations, I asked him to be my co-founder, and it was the right decision. After running my business by myself for so long, I’m really grateful to have someone to not only split the work with but also to brainstorm and discuss major moves with.
This industry is young, dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think legacy companies should consider adopting?
I think we’re at an advantage with our marketing because we can’t rely on social media marketing right now. Facebook and Instagram will not allow CBD companies to promote ads, so it makes us think outside the box instead of simply creating budgets for social advertising. But this is what this industry is all about: thinking outside the box. For us, solid press mentions are our best bet, so we’ve been investing most of our marketing budget into pushing what makes us different, and that’s having a legitimate cannabis and health expert as the founder of our company. Many people are unsure of who they can trust and what product they should buy, so focusing on providing that reassurance to our customer is our number-one goal, and press is how we’re able to share that information.
Can you share three things that most excite you about the cannabis industry and three things that most concern you?
Watching the regulatory changes has been the number one most exciting part of this industry. When the Farm Bill passed, it was not only a monumental moment in the cannabis world but also in the healthcare world. Heading to states where recreational marijuana is legal is another really exciting thing for me. Not only does it help with destigmatizing cannabis in general, but also, seeing the positive impact financially the industry can have on the community is amazing. And the future is number three for me. I can’t wait to see where not only my business can go but also where the cannabis industry as a whole can go. How many jobs can we create? How many people can we help feel better? All of that is what keeps me so stimulated by this business.
What concerns me most is also the regulatory changes. I want rules and regulations to help weed (pun intended) out the poor-quality products out there, but it can also create more hoops for us to jump through. Poor-quality products are my other concern. In this industry, we’re all often lumped together. So when you have another CBD brand peddling poor-quality products or, worse, products that don’t actually contain any CBD, it brings all of us down. And the stigma is my other concern. I think we’re moving past it, but I think it’s important for brands to consistently work to reduce the stigma and raise the bar in the cannabis industry.
Can you share what you wish someone had told you before leading a cannabis business?
I think the best line I heard in this business was: “I’d much rather teach cannabis to businesspeople than business to cannabis people.” This would have helped with the issue with one of our suppliers. That said, there are so many incredibly knowledgable people in all sides of this business, and I love seeing the “stoner” stereotype be knocked down constantly.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees thrive?
Honestly, it’s basically the golden rule. In my businesses, I always remember what I felt like when I was an assistant or an intern early on and what made me care the most was when a boss treated me kindly. You’re only as strong as the people working around you, so respecting them and empowering them should be a priority. That said, a wise woman once told me to “hire slowly and fire quickly." Still working on that!
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Legalizing marijuana would be the most beneficial across the board. Economic benefits aside, it would take away the need for black market and, likely, poor-quality products. That would lead to better safety and product control for all products, including products derived from hemp. It would also probably give the courts a break from non-violent cannabis-related crimes and allow more resources to be devoted to other crimes.